The Debutante Ball

Part II: The Rehearsal Dinner


This is a long column. It really shouldn't be classified as a "column," per se, because it is so long. A column is something short enough to actually fit into a column. Because of its length, I think the only column this particular "column" would fit into would be a column from a page of the Talmud. This week's "column" would probably be best represented as a short story. I thought about dividing it up into two columns, but then I realized that the names of the two columns would be "The Debutante Ball Part II: The Rehearsal Dinner, Part I" and then the following week, "The Debutante Ball Part II: The Rehearsal Dinner, Part II." Frankly, those are just the types of subdivisions that induce confusion, and lord knows we don't want that. The very concept of a debutante ball is confusing enough for me to write/complain about, let alone have the wonderful readers of this column be confused.

So sit back, grab some popcorn and/or other type of snackish food and enjoy this week's column -- when you've got some time to kill. Maybe you'll even want to print it out and read it before bed. It will probably put you to sleep. (HIYO!) If it does, don't come complaining to me. I tried to make this as easy as possible for you.



One of the more humorous things about the event of going to the debutante ball itself was actually being invited. About a week into June, I received an envelope that looked like this:

Of course, it had my complete home address on it, you ninnies. The Debutante Society doesn't have THAT much swing over the postal service. Some, but not enough to address an envelope without the holy ZIP code.

The envelope was swanky and snooty-- just the way I had expected it. The letter was addressed to "Dear Marshal:" To which I immediately thought, "My name isn't Marshall! And if it was, they would have spelled it wrong!" Then I discovered that it was my duty to be Lucinda's "Marshal" at her debutante ball. You see, southern dialect is different from what many northerners are used to. I picked up some southern vocabulary while I was in Charlotte. For the convenience of the northern reader, I have composed a handy-dandy little table that will enable you to understand what is going on in this column, because some of the terms will be used in tonight's column.

Southern: y'all
Northern: Youse guys

Southern: Hiiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaaaaaah!
Northern: Hello.

Southern: Hayaw er yeeeew?
Northern: How are you doing today?

Southern: Yew look graaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate!
Your appearance is aesthetically pleasing!

Southern: We would prefer that you did it this way.
Northern: If you don't do it this way, we will kill your first born child.

Southern: Marshal
Northern: Escort, or Elbow Bra

Southern: I don't care for...
Northern: I fuckin' hate...

Now that we've dropped the language barrier, let's get on with what this column is ACTUALLY about:

The first thing that is necessary to know about the rehearsal dinner is that it was a formal rehearsal dinner. The debutante ball is also formal. But it is a different kind of formal. The debutante ball is actually more formal than the rehearsal formal. In short, what this meant is that I had to rent two different kinds of tuxes, one of them more formal than the other. How is this possible? Well, one of the tuxes was called a "full dress" tux, which meant, in short, that it had tails. So I hauled two tuxes down to Charlotte with me which matched the previous cumulative amount of tuxes I had worn in my entire life. That one tux with tails really got me, though.

I hate tails. I spent the entire weekend praying that I wouldn't get them stuck in the car door. Then again, I probably shouldn't have worn them the entire weekend. It gets very hot in Charlotte.

We got to the rehearsal dinner, and although I was feeling somewhat over dressed in my tux, I was looking good (See column picture; not from Charlotte, but it's me in a tux. The Weekly Complaint is always a black tie event). Just as I was about to start coming on to myself in the mirror, the introductions began. This is how Lucinda was greeted by every one of the debutantes:

Debutante: Hiiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaaaaah! Hayaw er yeeeeew? Yew look graaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate! Well, I guess we'll see y'all later!

By the time had come to sit down to dinner, my ears were ringing with the greetings of rich, southern white girls anxious to tell my debutante how good she looked. And she did look good, by the way, very good. But we won't get into that, as in this is the Weekly Complaint. Next week, however, we will be changing the column to the Weekly Kiss-Lucinda's-Ass because next week we are talking about the ball itself (yes, there's another week full of this) and, well, the beauty gods decided to smile on Lucinda that night. Quit your awwwwing... I can't bitch about everything all the time, for Chrissakes (although those who went to school with me at Boston University last year may attest differently to that statement). Now shut up and keep reading about silly southern people.

Before our dinner was served, we were asked to bow our heads in prayer. Being from Chicago, where there are more religions than dead criminals in Texas, I was shocked to hear of a prayer at a (relatively) public event. The prayer seemed to be rather non-denominational at the start:

"Heavenly Father, we thank you for blessing us with the food we are about to receive, etc..." Okay, I think to myself. Many religions nowadays believe in a paternal monotheistic deistic figure. That's non-denominational, that's P.C. Then at the end, it seemed like he almost tried not to say it, but slipped it in really quickly, the guy says "inyourson'snamewepray, Amen."

And I guess that it was OK, because as I was telling this story later on to Sarah (another friend from Boston U. who came down for the event), she came to a realization that had not yet occurred to me: "Oh my God," she said. "I am going to be the only Jew in that room." I think she was.

When we sat down to dinner, there were eight people sitting at the table. Myself, Lucinda, Lucinda's Dad, Lucinda's Stepmom, Mr. & Mrs. Jones (people from the debutante society; there were two of these people at every table to make sure no minorities were invited), Michael (the other Marshal), Lucinda's Mom, and myself. Now, some of these folks are a set of characters, let me tell you.

First of all, there's Michael. An extremely nice guy. I cannot stress how nice of a guy he was. But he was so pretentious. The thing about Michael is that he was very into Asian culture, which is cool. The uncool thing about it was that he never failed to mention the fact that he was into Asian culture to us at any point in time. Michael speaks Chinese. I learned this about 5 minutes into the car ride on the way to the rehearsal dinner. He said, in Chinese, for no particular reason "My Chinese is terrible." Which he then translated for us. Then Luci added, "Oh yeah. Michael speaks Chinese." To which I replied, "Oh." To which Michael replied: "Yeah, I've been taking it over at the Asian Cultural Center for a few years now. My grammar is terrible, though." To which I replied, "Oh."
"Hey, Lucinda," said Michael. "Did I tell you about the great teapot I found for my girlfriend at the Asian Cultural Center?"
"No, Mike, you didn't."
"Oh, it's great," Michael said. "It's really ornate." He really said "ornate." A word I have not heard since I was in eighth grade, taking vocabulary-building tests. "My girlfriend and I are really into tea," Michael explained to me.
"Oh," I said.
"My girlfriend has the most enigmatic eyes," said Michael said. "Hey, Lucinda, have I told you about my girlfriend's eyes?"
"Yes," said Lucinda.
"Oh man," said Michael, completely ignoring what Lucinda said, "she has the most enigmatic eyes I have ever seen. It's like, they're blue on the outside, and as the iris gets closer to the pupil, it gets lighter and greener. And right next to the pupil, there are shades of brown. And on her left eye, there is a little freckle, right under and to the left of her pupil. Her eyes are amazing."

Mrs. Jones was the most stereotypical southern woman you will ever meet. She was kind, friendly, and conservative. I won't get into Mrs. Jones too much because this column is probably already the longest one I've ever written I've got even more ground to cover, so I'll just list Mrs. Jones' quotables for the evening. They are to be read aloud in a southern accent.

1. "Well, I hope this thang is overwith soon because I want to get home and watch George Dubya Bush speak!"
2. "My daughter wants to go to college at SMU [Southern Methodist] because Laura Bush went there, and she thinks that's cool!"
3. "Well, I went to college in Texas, and let me tell you, if you weren't in a sorority in Texas, well, you might as well just kill yourself!"

After dinner, the debutantes were shuffled off into one section of the country club whilst the marshals were whisked off to another. It was here that we were instructed what we were actually to do.

Since most of you reading this column probably have never marshaled a debutante before, let me tell you what it involves:

First of all, there are two marshals that escort every girl. This is because in the south, it is really hot, and in the event that the debutante should faint in the heat, both of the marshals is there to drag the debutante out of the hot lights of the ballroom and into the lobby where it is cooler and revive her with smelling salts, upon which the debutante is often heard to say in a thick, southern drawl: "I do declare! It certainly is a trifle warm in there!"

Actually, each marshal has a different duty. Marshal number 1 (Michael) is to escort the debutante with his left arm. The duty of Marshal number 2 (me, because I'm a Yankee) is what really amused me. My duty was essentially to support the left elbow of the debutante. You see, when the debutante is escorted, she is flanked by the two Marshals. In her left hand, she carries a fan (in case the air conditioning breaks, I think) and my job, as the second marshal, was to support her elbow while we walked down aisle in the ballroom.

Now, I understand that historically, the idea of this ceremony was to present these women as potential brides to the men of society. I also understand that they wanted the women to appear to be as delicate as a flower. However, what I don't understand is why there needs to be a second marshal. Granted, if I'm a wealthy 19th century plantation owner, I want my new wife to be delicate, but she's gotta at least be able to hold up a fan! What if I get sick? Who's gonna whip the slaves in my absence? Our newborn child? I don't think so! Be strong, woman! Hold up that fan!

Because of (what I felt) were my rather silly duties, I coined myself "the elbow bra" and got ready to do my job.

It turned out that I had plenty of time in which to get ready, because a lot of what is involved at a debutante ball rehearsal is waiting. I found out why when we took our turn going through the steps of the presentation of the debutantes. (Yes, they really call it a presentation.)

First, the debutante and her father comes out and the M.C. announces who she is. The girl curtsies to her dad as if saying "Thank you for buying me this ludicrously expensive dress, Daddy." The funny thing about the curtsying is that Lucinda described it as a very uncomfortable, unnatural thing to do, and that since the dresses that the girls wore for the event were so big, that it would make no difference whatsoever to just squat gracefully.

Then the father leads the girl up and down this aisle in the ballroom as if to say "Here's my daughter. Isn't she a piece of ass? Who wants to marry her?"

Then, when they reach the end of the aisle, the marshals come out from backstage and wait for the debutante to be escorted. I went out and stood, watching Lucinda coming down the aisle with her dad, standing with unusually good posture (if I do say so myself) when I heard a whispering from the wings:
"Right over left!"
I turned and looked to see that one of the "uniformity-is-next-to-godliness" women was waving at me and informing me that I was standing with my left hand over my right hand, which was improper. The proper way to stand was with the right hand over the left.
With the way things were going that night, I wouldn't have been surprised if they had stopped the rehearsal all together at that point and started all over again. Fortunately, they allowed me to make a rather discreet switch of my hands which allowed the belly of hell itself to remain closed-- for a while.

When Lucinda arrived, it was our turn to escort her down the aisle, turn her around (a right turn ONLY), let her curtsy, and then escort her out. Sounds easy enough, right? Such was not the case, unfortunately.

When we stopped to let her curtsy, one of the women stopped us and instructed us that it was very important to "look at your debutante and smile while she curtsies." So we tried it again, and both Michael and I gave Lucinda endearing smiles while she curtsied as if to say, "you look so adorable when you squat."

Then we filed out. This whole process, approximately the last 373 words you have read, took about ten minutes to go through. Not so bad. Except when you add in the fact that there were 19 other girls who had to go through the same process... and that they made us do it a second time after everyone had gone once. When our second turn came up, it was clear that Lucinda's dad was getting a tad impatient with the whole process, and muttered to Lucinda as they were walking down the aisle, "Why don't I just put a price tag on you?"

Finally, the night came to a close. Knowing that tomorrow was the big night, we all left with a plethora of different emotions swimming about in our very souls: Lucinda's Dad was grumpy and tired; I was bored and tired; Lucinda was stressed out and tired; Michael was speaking Chinese.

Lucinda and I were both relieved to go back to her house, where we did what any exhausted, rational college students with a huge day ahead of them would do: stayed up till 4:00 am talking.

2 September 2000